Former President Nicolas Sarkozy says France's justice
system was being used for political ends, after he was put
under investigation on suspicion of using his influence to gain
details of a probe into his 2007 election campaign.
The judicial step, which often but not always leads to trial,
is a major setback to Sarkozy's hopes of a political comeback
after his 2012 defeat by Socialist Francois Hollande.
The conservative politician denies wrongdoing in a string of
investigations where his direct or indirect implication has
cast doubt on his viability as a candidate in the 2017
"I say to all those who are listening or watching that I have
never betrayed them and have never committed an act against
the Republic's principles and the rule of law," Sarkozy said
in his first interview since losing the 2012 election.
"The situation is sufficiently serious to tell the French
people where we stand on the political exploitation of part
of the legal system today."
In the 17-minute interview on broadcaster TF1's national
evening news, a determined and angry Sarkozy launched an
attack on the magistrates who had placed him under
investigation, saying they had wanted to "humiliate" him.
Describing the accusations against him as "grotesque", he
accused Justice Minister Christiane Taubira and Prime
Minister Manuel Valls of manipulating the process and being
aware of details of the probe they should not have known.
"I passionately love my country and I am not a man who gets
discouraged in the face of dirty tricks and political
manipulations," Sarkozy said.
Magistrates are looking at whether Sarkozy used his influence
to secure leaked details of an inquiry into alleged
irregularities in his victorious 2007 campaign. He is
suspected of influence-peddling, corrupting officials, and
benefiting from breach of professional secrets, the
prosecutor's office said.
"ATMOSPHERE OF HATE"
The first former president to spend time in police custody,
Sarkozy, 59, was detained for 15 hours on Tuesday before
appearing before investigating magistrates who will run the
inquiry. He was then released without bail.
Sarkozy "has gone through other ordeals of this nature, he
has always known how to fight", said Paul-Albert Iweins, the
attorney for Sarkozy's own attorney, Thierry Herzog, who is
also being investigated for influence-peddling along with a
judge involved in the affair.
Iweins said the inquiry was weak as it relied on legally
questionable phone taps of conversations between Sarkozy and
Herzog as well as between Herzog and the president of the
Sarkozy's allies cast doubt over the impartiality of one of
the investigating magistrates, with Christian Estrosi, the
mayor of Nice, telling France Info state radio that
Hollande's government had whipped up "an atmosphere of hate".
Valls dismissed suggestions of a plot.
Investigating magistrates have a unique and powerful role
under French law, both gathering evidence and determining
whether it is solid enough for a trial. After the inquiry,
the magistrate can drop the case for lack of evidence or
"charge" the accused, sending the case to trial.
Influence-peddling can be punished by up to five years in
prison and corrupting officials can trigger a sentence of up
to 10 years.
It was the second time the ex-president, who lost immunity
from legal prosecution a month after he left office in June
2012, had been placed under such a judicial probe. The first
was in 2013 but magistrates later dropped the case against
Six legal cases, including this one, hang over the
ex-president's head, a shadow that many in his fractured UMP
party believe compromises his ability to lead a comeback in
"DISASTROUS" LEGAL SAGA
"This legal saga is disastrous," wrote Le Monde daily in a
front-page editorial. "Each of these episodes ... demonstrate
that for its actors and the leading one in particular, the
end justifies all the means."
When asked whether he would throw his hat into the ring for
the opposition UMP party's leadership later this year,
Sarkozy said he did not give up in the face of adversity and
would make a decision after the summer.
"The question of whether I give up or not is irrelevant ...
because one has a duty and not rights towards their country.
I am concerned by the situation in France, the state of
France and I know of the worries of the French and their
"I will have to decide, after a period of reflection, at the
end of August (or) start of September, on what I should do."
In the current affair, Sarkozy is accused of using his
influence to get information on a troublesome legal inquiry
into funding irregularities in his victorious 2007 election
Specifically, magistrates are looking to see whether Sarkozy
tried to get a judge promoted to the bench in Monaco in
exchange for information on that campaign funding inquiry, in
which he was accused of exploiting the mental frailty of
France's richest woman, L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt,
for campaign funds.
Those accusations against Sarkozy were dismissed in October.
But as investigators last year used phone-taps to examine
separate allegations that late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi
funded the same campaign, they began to suspect that Sarkozy
had kept tabs on the Bettencourt case, before he was dropped
from it, through a network of informants.
Those suspicions prompted police to launch an inquiry in
February, which led to Wednesday's events. Under French law,
a suspect is not formally charged with a crime unless he is
sent to trial.